Richard Coles: A typically Anglican compromise on women bishops

The Church is working out its way of life within horizons not of this world

Share
Related Topics

There was an ancient tradition that when someone was consecrated bishop they said, "Nolo episcopari", meaning, "I don't want to be a bishop". It is impossible to say how many episcopal careers thus began with a lie, and the tradition was wisely abandoned. The words might be heard again this week when the General Synod of the Church of England meets; they will be spoken, however, by women seeking to change the Church's rules that at which moment restrict episcopacy to men; and they will be spoken through gritted teeth because these women have been fighting for this change for decades.

How can a change so long awaited, so carefully debated, fall at the last fence? The Synod, an organisation with the clout of a Neighbourhood Watch Association tasked to transact the business of The Council of Nicea, was expected to endorse the decision of 42 of the 44 dioceses of the Church of England to go ahead with the change. It has been a long and difficult and thorough debate but we have – finally – got there. Except we haven't.

Opposition to the change has proved surprisingly durable and, indeed, creative since women priests appeared 20 years ago. As a result, the Church has worked very hard to find a form of agreement which would allow women bishops to be consecrated, yet make room within the Church – a sort of native reservation, if you like – for those who cannot accept them. So hard has it worked that, in spite of the decision of the dioceses, the bishops have proposed some amendments which have alienated everyone. Those who oppose change think they don't go far enough. Those who seek change think they so weaken the episcopal ministry of women we would be better off not bothering – hence the reprise of the Nolo episcopari.

While this is a spectacle most lookers-on must find unintelligible, the Church is only doing what it has always done, which is seek to work out its way of life within horizons and perspectives that are not of this world.

To say so is not to come down on one side or the other – I happen to be very much in favour of women bishops, and not only because it offers the tantalising possibility of a bishop one day being called †Belinda Carlisle – but to suggest that our decision-making will always seem peculiar.

It can be immensely frustrating and it can produce lopsided outcomes. But it also offers at the very least the hope of a compromise between two irreconcilable positions without everyone setting fire to themselves or each other.

Richard Coles is a broadcaster and a Church of England parish priest

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia  

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Oliver Poole
Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup